Don’t Mourn, Organize

Those were Joe Hill’s final words. And he’s a hero of mine.

I thought of him tonight as I sat at the MacDocMan’s place watching the latest episode of the Dutch investigative report program, Tegenlicht. The episode was about union organizing in the Netherlands, and also how the American Service Employees International Union (remember Janitors for Justice) are sending representatives around the world, to help organize workers, especially cleaning staff, at these multinational corporate offices. In itself, an interesting subject, especially taking into considering the Joe Hill in me.

But more interesting still, was the fact that as I sat there watching it, the director of the piece was sitting to my left, watching very intensely so as to not miss a moment or a sound of that which she had worked so hard on. There were demonstrations, confrontations with angry security officers, cleaning people who had immigrated from all over the developing world, and the occasional funny moment between the corporate reps and the organizers. A compelling piece, all in all, especially when I think about the decline of unions in the US, not including what is happening with Service Workers International in places like LA and Las Vegas. Some of it is actually in english, so you may want to watch it online.

Afterwards we sat and talked about it. I tried to keep quiet observe how the family members discussed it. They explained that first you have to present all the criticisms, so they did. And then you can give compliments, which is where I chimed in.

The final thought of the evening, that I will leave you with, actually comes from the Docman himself, talking about the goals of the American Unions to organize workers in the Netherlands. He said something to the effect of, Why are American Organizers being sent here to teach us as if we don’t have unions. This country actually has some amazingly strong union traditions, which were developed without any teaching from American labor unions.

Not his words, of course. But it was the point that I understood, and I felt it a good question.